WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruling overturning Montgomery County’s race-based school transfer policy “casts a chill” on other schools’ integration efforts, said an education official in Maryland.
School systems will be criticized if they do not act to prevent segregation of classrooms, said Carl Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. But Wednesday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibits one way in which schools systems were working to integrate classes.
“This ruling casts a chill on the school’s ability to advance diversity for educational purposes,” said Smith.
But officials from two other Maryland counties that have magnet schools said Thursday they are not concerned that the court ruling will affect their programs. School officials in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City said their magnet school policies are different enough from Montgomery’s program that the ruling will not apply to them.
Montgomery school officials, meanwhile, said they are still evaluating the situation after Wednesday’s ruling that said the system must let Jacob Eisenberg, 6, attend Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring.
Jacob’s father went to court to win that right after the Montgomery County Board of Education refused to let the boy transfer out of Glen Haven Elementary in Silver Spring to Rosemary Hills, a school that offered a math and science magnet program.
Magnet schools began about 20 years ago as an attempt to integrate schools by attracting a racially diverse mix of students for a special curriculum. They still offer special programs, but Smith said the emphasis at magnet schools now is not always on desegregation.
“They’ve evolved so they have many purposes instead of one,” said Smith.
Jacob’s kindergarten teachers supported the boy’s transfer to the magnet school. But the board denied the transfer because Glen Haven was losing too many white students and Jacob, who is white, was needed to maintain “racial balance” at the school.
The boy’s father, lawyer Jeffrey Eisenberg, asked a federal district court to block the board’s decision, but U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams refused. A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed Williams’ decision and ordered him to require the school board to reconsider Jacob’s application to Rosemary Hills “without consideration of his race.”
“Jacob’s transfer request was refused because of his race. As we have pointed out, such race-based governmental actions are presumed to be invalid,” the appeals judges wrote. “Nothing in this record overcomes that presumption.”
The court went on to say that it was not voiding the county’s student transfer policy, only “that it (the school system) may not consider the race of the applicant in granting or denying the transfer.”
Race is not a consideration at all when choosing who enters magnet schools in Baltimore City, where they are known as citywide schools, said Marcy Crump, a staff specialist with the city school system.
“What’s considered is grades and attendance,” said Crump.
“Compared to other school districts, a minority getting into a magnet program isn’t an issue,” in Baltimore, she said.
Like Baltimore school officials, Prince George’s County school officials said they do not believe the Montgomery ruling will affect their magnet school program.
Prince George’s County, which signed an agreement last year that ended three decades of court-ordered school desegregation, does initially impose a racial quota when admitting children into magnet schools. But if the quota is not met, children are placed “without regards to race,” said Masha Smalls, secretary of the Prince George’s County magnet office.
Because of that leniency in the county’s race quotas, Smalls said she is not concerned that parents like Eisenberg would sue in Prince George’s.
The Eisenbergs could not be reached for comment Thursday. A woman who answered the phone at their house said Jacob went to school at Glen Mills on Thursday.
When asked when the boy might be allowed to attend Rosemary Hills, a school spokeswoman said Thursday that it’s up to the Eisenbergs.